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2021 NFL Draft: Prospects to watch in each New Year’s Six bowl game

The New Year’s Six are widely heralded as the biggest bowl games of the year, so it’s no surprise that each game has its fair share of talented 2021 NFL Draft prospects.

ACC Championship - Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The New Year’s Six bowl games are considered to be the most prestigious bowls in college football every year,

From the two playoff semifinal matchups to the four surrounding bowl games, each of the New Year’s Six games possess some of the most talented players in the nation, and each game projects as a hotbed for NFL talent.

With the home stretch of the college football season underway, the Bears would be wise to keep their eyes peeled to the action taking place over the next week, even as they prepare for a make-or-break week for their playoff hopes. Here are the notable 2021 NFL Draft prospects in each New Year’s Six bowl game, and how each team stacks up heading into each matchup.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 7 Florida vs. No. 6 Oklahoma

Wed., Dec. 30 at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN

Though Florida will be without some of their top offensive weapons on Wednesday, they still have plenty of draft-caliber prospects to keep an eye on. The first-round hype on Kyle Trask has cooled off a bit, but the Heisman finalist still has the accuracy and deep-ball touch needed to be strongly in Day 2 consideration this year. With the absence of Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes, look for the Gators’ defense to step into the spotlight more. Tedarrell Slaton and Jeremiah Moon lead a talented unit up front, while Marco Wilson and Shawn Davis will both likely be drafted at some point on Day 3 next April.

After starting off the year at 1-2, Oklahoma put together a strong season down the stretch, going on a seven-game winning streak and defeating the likes of Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State in the process. Led by sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler, the Sooners may lack in early-round talent for the 2021 draft, but they have a bright future with the young prospects on their roster. Creed Humphrey is the experienced leader along the offensive line, using his intelligence and power to serve as a reliable anchor at center. Defensively, both Ronnie Perkins and DaShaun White have been among their most productive members of the front-seven.

Prospects of note:

  • Florida TE Kyle Pitts*
  • Florida QB Kyle Trask
  • Florida WR Kadarius Toney*
  • Florida DL Tedarrell Slaton
  • Florida EDGE Jeremiah Moon
  • Florida CB Marco Wilson
  • Florida LB Ventrell Miller*
  • Florida S Shawn Davis
  • Florida WR Trevon Grimes*
  • Oklahoma C Creed Humphrey
  • Oklahoma EDGE Ronnie Perkins
  • Oklahoma LB DaShaun White
  • Oklahoma WR Charleston Rambo
  • Oklahoma CB Tre Brown*

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 9 Georgia vs. No. 8 Cincinnati

Fri., Jan. 1 at 11:00 a.m. on ESPN

Georgia started off the 2020 season in rocky fashion, but since transfer quarterback J.T. Daniels was deemed eligible to play and took over the starting position, the Bulldogs are on a three-game winning streak and have found new life on offense. Though he’s draft-eligible as a redshirt sophomore, Daniels will likely stay in school for 2021. Georgia has an incredibly talented defense, including three intriguing cornerbacks—just one of whom will be playing on Friday, though—an extremely flexible edge rusher in Azeez Ojulari, and multiple other potential draft picks in all levels of their unit. On offense, the Bulldogs also have a well-rounded, explosive back in Zamir White and a nasty interior offensive line.

With an undefeated season and three wins over ranked teams, Cincinnati has put together one of the most impressive résumés for a Group of 5 school in quite some time. The Bearcats are led by quarterback Desmond Ridder, a dual-threat passer with very good athletic tools and a strong arm that could see him drafted on Day 2 of the 2021 draft. Defensively, they have an extremely athletic edge rusher Myjai Sanders, whose lengthy frame and notable first-step quickness project him as a strong Day 2 talent. James Wiggins is another notable defender on their roster, as he has the athleticism and ball skills needed to thrive in coverage at the NFL level.

Prospects of note:

  • Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari
  • Georgia CB Eric Stokes*
  • Georgia RB Zamir White
  • Georgia CB Tyson Campbell
  • Georgia QB J.T. Daniels
  • Georgia DL Jordan Davis
  • Georgia CB D.J. Daniel*
  • Georgia S Richard LeCounte III
  • Georgia OG Ben Cleveland*
  • Georgia QB Jamie Newman*
  • Georgia DL Malik Herring
  • Georgia LB Monty Rice*
  • Georgia C Trey Hill
  • Georgia TE Tre’ McKitty*
  • Georgia DB Mark Webb
  • Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
  • Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders
  • Cincinnati S James Wiggins

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Capital One: No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 1 Alabama

Fri., Jan. 1 at 3:00 p.m. on ESPN

Despite a blowout loss to Clemson to finish the year, Notre Dame has plenty to be proud of with their performance this season. They enter this semifinal matchup as the underdogs, but they certainly aren’t pushovers. The Fighting Irish feature an athletic and intelligent playmaker in linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who should find himself in first-round conversation this year. They also have two under-the-radar pass-rushers in Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes, both of whom bringing enticing athletic traits to the table on defense. On offense, Ian Book has been a reliable and accurate constant for his team, and receiver Ben Skowronek stands out as a big-bodied weapon with great ball skills. Notre Dame’s biggest strength, though, is their offensive line. Liam Eichenberg is a likely first-round pick who has great power, intelligence and polished hands. Don’t forget about his teammates, either, as Aaron Banks, Tommy Kraemer, and Robert Hainsey all project as NFL-caliber players up front.

Alabama has been nothing short of fantastic this season, and as the No. 1 team in the nation, they are the strong favorites to win the national championship. Mac Jones has been fantastic this season, stepping into the starting role and looking like a polished veteran under center. Jaylen Waddle was incredible prior to his injury early in the year, and if he is able to return for the Rose Bowl, he will join Heisman candidate DeVonta Smith, whose athleticism and route-running savvy could make him the first wide receiver to win the award since Desmond Howard in 1991. In addition to Jones and Smith, Najee Harris is also a top-five Heisman candidate for this year, using his incredible power and contact balance to plow through the SEC. The Crimson Tide also feature three potential top-100 picks along their offensive line, an underrated tight end in Miller Forristall, and a backup running back in Brian Robinson Jr. who could outdo his collegiate production in the NFL. Alabama’s defense is also respectable, featuring a shutdown, first-round cornerback in Patrick Surtain, a likely top-50 pick at linebacker in Dylan Moses, and three NFL-caliber defensive linemen who will all likely be drafted in 2021.

Prospects of note:

  • Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg
  • Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
  • Notre Dame EDGE Adetokunbo Ogundeji
  • Notre Dame EDGE Daelin Hayes
  • Notre Dame WR Ben Skowronek
  • Notre Dame OG Aaron Banks
  • Notre Dame OG Tommy Kraemer
  • Notre Dame OL Robert Hainsey
  • Notre Dame QB Ian Book
  • Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
  • Alabama WR DeVonta Smith
  • Alabama CB Patrick Surtain
  • Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood
  • Alabama RB Najee Harris
  • Alabama LB Dylan Moses
  • Alabama QB Mac Jones
  • Alabama DL Christian Barmore
  • Alabama C Landon Dickerson
  • Alabama OG Deonte Brown
  • Alabama CB Josh Jobe
  • Alabama DL LaBryan Ray
  • Alabama DL Phidarian Mathis
  • Alabama TE Miller Forristall
  • Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson

Fri., Jan. 1 at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN

Last year’s matchup between Ohio State and Clemson was one for the ages, and with how talented each of their rosters are this year, there’s no reason to think their New Year’s matchup shouldn’t be the same.

Led by projected top-5 pick Justin Fields, the Buckeyes have plenty of talent on offense. From a strong WR1 in Chris Olave, their dynamic duo out of the backfield, a strong offensive line and two NFL-caliber tight ends, there isn’t much of a weakness on Ohio State’s offense, outside of maybe receiver depth outside of Olave and sophomore Garrett Wilson. The defense isn’t as stacked with early-round talent, but star cornerback Shaun Wade is the biggest name on a unit that should realistically have several players drafted in 2021.

Clemson dropped its first regular season game since 2017 this season, but don’t take that as a sign of weakness. Trevor Lawrence is playing at an elite level again this year, staying strong for an offense than hasn’t scored fewer than 34 points in a single game. Receivers Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell have stepped up in a huge way without the injured Justyn Ross and 2020 draft pick Tee Higgins, while Travis Etienne further solidified himself as one of the best running backs in the nation. The Tigers may not be as strong defensively as they were a few years ago, but keep an eye on Derion Kendrick as one of the top cornerbacks in the upcoming draft.

Prospects of note:

  • Ohio State QB Justin Fields
  • Ohio State OG Wyatt Davis
  • Ohio State CB Shaun Wade
  • Ohio State WR Chris Olave
  • Ohio State C Josh Myers
  • Ohio State OT Thayer Munford
  • Ohio State RB Trey Sermon
  • Ohio State LB Baron Browning
  • Ohio State DL Tommy Togiai
  • Ohio State RB Master Teague
  • Ohio State DL Haskell Garrett
  • Ohio State CB Tyreke Johnson
  • Ohio State TE Luke Farrell
  • Ohio State LB Pete Werner
  • Ohio State TE Jeremy Ruckert
  • Ohio State EDGE Jonathon Cooper
  • Ohio State LB Tuf Borland
  • Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
  • Clemson RB Travis Etienne
  • Clemson OT Jackson Carman
  • Clemson CB Derion Kendrick
  • Clemson WR Justyn Ross*
  • Clemson WR Amari Rodgers
  • Clemson WR Cornell Powell
  • Clemson EDGE Xavier Thomas

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: No. 25 Oregon vs. No. 10 Iowa State

Sat., Jan. 2 at 3:00 p.m. on ESPN

The Pac-12 as an entire conference struggled in their shortened season, but after upsetting USC in the Pac-12 championship, Oregon finds themselves in a New Year’s Six matchup. Most of their top draft-eligible prospects opted out of the 2020 season, but there is still talent on the Ducks’ roster. Deommodore Lenoir is an athletic cornerback with good lateral quickness and deep speed, while running back C.J. Verdell has helped form an explosive one-two punch out of the backfield with Travis Dye. Keep an eye on sophomore edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux: he’ll be in the early running as the top defensive player in the 2022 draft.

Iowa State as a New Year’s Six team remains a controversial topic with their 8-3 at-large Big 12 status, but there’s no denying they’re still a talented team. The star of the team is dynamic sophomore running back Breece Hall, who isn’t draft-eligible yet. Brock Purdy started off the season slow, but he found his footing a bit later in the year and should still garner Day 3 looks if he chooses to declare. Charlie Kolar has served as a big-bodied, physical prototype at the ‘Y’ tight end spot for the Cyclones, while intelligent and physical safety Greg Eisworth II is the biggest standout on defense.

Prospects of note:

  • Oregon OT Penei Sewell*
  • Oregon DB Jevon Holland*
  • Oregon RB C.J. Verdell
  • Oregon CB Thomas Graham Jr.*
  • Oregon CB Deommodore Lenoir
  • Oregon S Brady Breeze*
  • Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar
  • Iowa State S Greg Eisworth II
  • Iowa State QB Brock Purdy

Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 5 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 North Carolina

Sat., Jan. 2 at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN

They may not have much in terms of flashy names on their roster, but Texas A&M has a solid roster that has come together and put together an impressive season. Kellen Mond leads the Aggies at quarterback, and the dual-threat passer should get his fair share of looks early on Day 3 should he declare for the draft. Their defense is the real attraction here, though, having limited their opponents to 20 points or fewer in six of their nine games. Tyree Johnson and Micheal Clemons are an athletic duo off the edge, while Leon O’Neal Jr. is a versatile and intelligent safety with value in the run game.

North Carolina has one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, which has made for some incredibly fun football this season. Sam Howell is the star of the show at quarterback, and while he is only a true sophomore, he should be in talks as the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft. Though top target Dyami Brown opted out of the Orange Bowl, Howell will still have the explosive Dazz Newsome to throw to. The Tar Heels had two 1,000-yard rushers this year, and both Javonte Williams and Michael Carter should get Day 2 looks from NFL teams this year. Williams is the only half of the duo playing on Saturday. North Carolina’s defense could be shaky, however, especially without All-ACC first-team linebacker Chazz Surratt manning the middle for them.

Prospects of note:

  • Texas A&M LB Anthony Hines III*
  • Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond
  • Texas A&M CB Elijah Blades*
  • Texas A&M EDGE Tyree Johnson
  • Texas A&M EDGE Micheal Clemons
  • Texas A&M WR Jhamon Ausmon*
  • Texas A&M S Leon O’Neal Jr.
  • North Carolina LB Chazz Surratt*
  • North Carolina RB Javonte Williams
  • North Carolina RB Michael Carter*
  • North Carolina WR Dazz Newsome
  • North Carolina WR Dyami Brown*